With an ax(e)

The Zippy strip from the 5th:

(#1) Alfred Jarry?

A Muffler Man-style fiberglass figure: a lumberjack with an ax(e) slung over his shoulder.

Alfred Jarry and Bill Griffith. This is not Griffith’s first Zippy homage to Jarry. From a 3/30/14 posting “Jarry at the diner”:


with information on AJ, and with the diner identified in a posting the following day.

In fact, Griffith is a collaborator in what amounts to a graphic fictobiographical novel about Jarry, Nigey Lennon’s Alfred Jarry: The Man With the Axe. The Amazon.com summary:


Alfred Jarry (1873-1907) lived fast, died young, and refused to accept objective reality. He was a major influence on artistic movements such as Dada and Surrealism, and his nihilistic 1896 play, “Ubu Roi”, is acknowledged as the turning point in modern drama. In “The Man with the Axe”, author Nigey Lennon and illustrator / underground comix legend Bill Griffith take an appropriately surrealistic graphic approach to chronicling the absurd life of this seminal figure. As the first-ever non-academic biography of Jarry, “The Man with the Axe” has been legendary since its initial publication in 1984. AirStream Books is proud to re-introduce it in e-book format to a new generation of readers. Features full-color cover art and numerous black-and-white illustrations by Bill Griffith, as well as a hilarious short story, “The Pataphysician”, by Nigey Lennon.

The Lennon / Griffith collaboration looks like a graphic novel, and it’s apparently not accurate in detail as a biography of Jarry; rather, it seems to be a piece of fictobiography. From my 12/29/14 posting “Fictobiography”:

Extended discussion (with examples) of two types of fiction/biography crosses in “Memory and fictobiography” of 6/26/10:

(auto)biographical fiction, fiction with an (auto)biographical cast: biofiction for short

fictionalized (auto)biography, (auto)biography with a fictional cast: fictobiography for short

Fictobiography doesn’t attempt to be accurate in detail, and it’s relatively free in filling in material that can’t be known from the historical record and altering details to make a better story. As they say, it’s “based on a true story”.

Now, on Ubu Roi (which had its origin in a piece of schoolboy naughtiness) and its successors, from Wikipedia:


Ubu Roi (Ubu the King or King Ubu) is a play by Alfred Jarry. It was first performed in Paris at the Théâtre de l’Œuvre, causing a riotous response in the audience as it opened and closed on December 10, 1896. It is considered a wild, bizarre and comic play, significant for the way it overturns cultural rules, norms, and conventions. For those who were in the audience on that night to witness the response, including W. B. Yeats, it seemed an event of revolutionary importance. It is now seen by some to have opened the door for what became known as modernism in the twentieth century. It is a precursor to Dada, Surrealism and the Theatre of the Absurd. It is the first of three stylised burlesques in which Jarry satirises power, greed, and their evil practices — in particular the propensity of the complacent bourgeoisie to abuse the authority engendered by success.

The title is sometimes translated as King Turd; however, the word “Ubu” is actually merely a nonsense word that evolved from the French pronunciation of the name “Herbert”, which was the name of one of Jarry’s teachers who was the satirical target and inspirer of the first versions of the play.

Ubu Roi was followed by Ubu Cocu (Ubu Cuckolded) and Ubu Enchaîné (Ubu in Chains), neither of which was performed during Jarry’s 34-year life. One of his later works, a novel/essay on “‘pataphysics”, is offered as an explanation behind the ideas that underpin Ubu Roi. ‘Pataphysics is, as Jarry explains, “the science of the realm beyond metaphysics”. ‘Pataphysics is a pseudo-science Jarry created to critique members of the academy. It studies the laws that “govern exceptions and will explain the universe supplementary to this one”. It is the “science of imaginary solutions”. [Note pataphysics in the title of #1.]

… The language of the play is a unique mix of slang from the playground, code-words, puns and near-gutter vocabulary, set to strange speech patterns.

… While his schoolmates lost interest in the Ubu legends when they left school, Jarry continued adding to and reworking the material for the rest of his short life. His plays are controversial for their scant respect to royalty, religion and society, their vulgarity and scatology, their brutality and low comedy, and their perceived utter lack of literary finish.

The fiberglass lumberjack. Alfred Jarry appears in #1 as a fiberglass figure of the Muffler Man variety (one of Bill Griffith’s other enthusiasms): a lumberjack with an ax(e) slung over his shoulder. Griffith being Griffth, this is no doubt a representation of an actual fiberglass creation, but I haven’t found one that looks just like the figure in #1. Lumberjack Muffler Men are fairly common, but most seem to be converted Muffler Men, with the mufflers in their hands replaced by axes; for instance, this Paul Bunyan figure from 1967 in Flagstaff AZ:


I did find one axe-on-shoulder lumberjack figure, but it’s otherwise not similar in detail to the figure in #1:

(#6) The Paul Bunyan of Bangor ME

From Roadside America, a comment on #6 by Roger Simmons, “a Maine native”, 07/15/1998:

The statement that the statue in Bangor Maine is a converted muffler man is false. Bangor is the home of Paul Bunyan — there is a birth certificate to prove it, the statue was made from scratch [as a symbol of pride in the city’s logging heritage; in 1830, Bangor was the world’s largest lumber shipping port] and refurbished a few years ago, and when the city wanted to dismantle him it raised quite an uproar. He does not even come close to the pose struck by your muffler men. In his left hand is a peavey (also invented by a Maine native), and in his right is a double-bitted axe which is over his shoulder in a typical lumberman’s fashion.

The origins of the Bunyan lumberjack myth are usually traced to the upper Midwest (Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota) rather than northern Maine, but his spirit inhabits all of the great lumbering regions of the US: New England, the upper Midwest, the Pacific Northwest.

Bangor ME has a special resonance for me, since it’s the closest city to Machiasport, where my Transue in-laws have a set of summer cabins (and where my man Jacques’s ashes rest). In a map, centered on Machias:


Machias is not far short of New Brunswick; the island just to its east is Grand Manan NB, and further to the east on the map is Nova Scotia.

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